Vegan Thai Red Curry

This Thai red curry recipe is a great example of a simple pantry recipe: once you’ve made the red curry paste and have some rice and coconut milk on hand, it’s really just a matter of running to the store to get things to throw in it. Anything from fried tofu to seitan, eggplant and zucchini, and a host of traditionally Thai add-ins make this super simple recipe filling and easy on the eyes.

Thai Red Curry, cooking in the wok

Traditionally, Thai red curries are spicy hot, as are green curries. Their colour descriptions come from the colour of the peppers used in their curry pastes. Yellow curry is similar, but includes turmeric, which everyone knows stains everything within a yard bright yellow (awesome for making tofu scramble ‘eggs!’). Massaman curry is Indian-influenced and includes more dried and powdered spices than the other curries, which are all made with fresh ingredients. The curry pastes are pretty dry—not like a sauce.

As much as you can, aim to use Thai ingredients instead of substitutions. It’ll still taste awesome with whatever you throw in, I’m sure, but it’ll taste extra awesome the more authentic it is.

A note on that: traditional Thai curries use shrimp paste and/or fish sauce in the pastes—vegans don’t like that. To sub, I added a little soy sauce to the recipe—not enough to be distinguishable on its own, but enough for a little salt. You could use a tablespoon of bean sauce or bean paste—fermented soy products—or fermented tofu in addition for an ever brinier flavour.

Also note: this is stupidly easy to prepare. Short steps: blend paste (or use leftover paste), heat some coconut milk, add paste, add more coconut milk, add curry add-ins, cook rice, garnish, serve, enjoy! It’s definitely under half an hour, and it makes an excellent meal with awesome leftovers! Use more coconut milk to serve as a soup, or less to serve as a more traditional curry.

Serves: ~6


For the paste: 

8 dried red chilli peppers (phrik haeng) 

1 T coriander seeds 

1 t whole black peppercorns 

2 stalks lemongrass, outer leaf or two removed and discarded, remaining stalk thinly sliced 

4-6 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced (or ~2 T preserved kaffir lime leaves) 

4 T cilantro roots and stems (bottom 2 inches or so of a bunch, thinly sliced) 

2 T galangal, sliced (or ginger) 

15 cloves garlic (just use a whole head—yes, a whole head—kick ass!), sliced 

3 shallots, minced (please don’t use onion; that would be disrespectful) 

5-10 small red chillies (phrik khi nu/bird’s eye chilli), sliced (or 4-6 Serrano chillies) 

1 T soy sauce 

1 T fermented bean paste (if you can find it) 

For the curry:

1 c jasmine rice + 2 c water 

1 15-oz. can coconut milk (or 2 to serve as more of a soup) 

1 small aubergine (eggplant, but why not call it aubergine?), cubed 

1 zucchini, sliced into 1/4″-thick rounds 

1 package Lightlife Steak Style Strips (rubbed to remove seasoning), or 2 c seitan, 2 c fried tofu (for gluten-free), etc. 

a small handful Thai basil leaves 

Optional for the curry:

bamboo shoots 

4-6 more kaffir lime leaves 

a few more small red chillies (phrik khi nu), whole 

Here are some more detailed instructions than the ones outlined above… Put the kettle on for hot water. Roughly chop the phrik haeng and place into a bowl. Just cover with boiling water and allow to soak for ~20 minutes while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

sliced Serrano chillies

In a spice-designated coffee grinder, grind the coriander seeks and peppercorns. Place the ground spices, lemongrass, lime leaves, cilantro roots, galangal, garlic, shallots, and phrik khi nu chillies into a food processor and blend. The mixture should be somewhat dry, so it might not blend together perfectly.

Drain the phrik haeng and add to the food processor. (I was just able to fit all of this into our mini food processor.) The mixture should be a bit wetter now and blend nicely. Add the soy sauce and bean paste, if using, and give a final blend. The mixture shouldn’t be too wet—definitely more of a paste.

This makes about 2 cups of paste, and it’ll store in the fridge for a while, so feel free to cover and store!

Thai Red Curry Paste

For the curry, heat a wok (or whatever) over medium heat. Add about a quarter of the coconut milk to the wok and heat until just bubbling. Add 1/2 c of chilli paste and stir to combine. You can add less curry paste, but I found 1/2 c to be perfect—not too hot. Ryan doesn’t like it when heat overpowers the taste of a dish, and he agreed that the dish wasn’t too hot.

Add the rest of the coconut milk (including the awesome fatty creamed parts that try to stick behind—yay healthy fats!), then add the aubergine, zucchini, and steak strips (and bamboo shoots, if using) and stir well to combine. Let that whole mixture chill out until the aubergine is tender. If you like your zucchini a little crunchier, then you could wait 5-8 minutes and add that in later.

Meanwhile, start some jasmine rice so that it’s ready at the same time as the curry!

When the aubergine is tender, throw in the basil (and bamboo shoots, lime leaves, chillies, if using) and stir. The basil will blacken a little bit from the heat—don’t worry!

Plate and serve! I like to form the rice into a ball, spoon curry next to it, and throw some basil on top for a pretty presentation.

Thai Red Curry, plated and pretty

Garnishes: basil leaves, phrik khi nu (small red chillies), or some red pepper or chilli slices
Goes well with: a crisp, fruity white wine or a hearty wheat beer; a simple fresh salad; or some awesome fresh rolls or other covetable Thai side dishes